Last issue I discussed the non-negotiable necessity for conducting physical searches prior to any reality based training (RBT) exercise as a means of helping ensure no live weapons or ammunition enter the training area ( Thou Must Search, p. 58). I ve since received several e-mails asking me to describe the process.
First, it s important to understand that it s essential to have a searcher who is both detail-oriented and practiced in the skill of searching. Second, these searches must be both systematic and ritualistic. Human nature is such that anything we do on a repetitive basis often becomes routine, and there is a vast difference between a ritual and a routine. A ritual can be defined as a formalized pattern of actions or words followed regularly and precisely and an inflexible, stylized and often repetitive sequence of actions that may indicate an obsession. Routine, on the other hand, can be defined as something unvarying or boringly repetitive. Something ritualistic takes on a sort of reverence, while a routine eventually falls into the province of boredom and complacency. And in RBT, this could mean corners get cut and safety gets diluted.
When something becomes routine, things get missed, especially in the chaotic scenario-prep environment. Add to this the restlessness that often accompanies the safety-inspection phase, and the inherent resistance many officers have to being searched, and you have the makings of a process that appears effective yet remains relatively meaningless.
Take, for example, the popular safety-inspection methodology known as the triple check. At face value, this process would seem to ensure there are not only one, but three sets of hands and eyes preventing any weapons or ammunition from getting through. Unfortunately, from my experience of observing many such inspections in action, the triple check often proves less safe than single-person inspections.
Why? According to the triple-check philosophy, participants first check themselves and their possessions for contraband, and then buddy up with someone else and have their buddy check them. Finally, a third person will check them. Ideally, these would be three thorough inspections, but in practice the check yourself phase often consists of a quick slap of the pockets and perhaps any gear bag they brought instead of a thorough self-examination. The dangerous mindset here is, I don t have anything with me, and I m just going to go through the motions of checking myself because somebody else will check me anyway.
The second phase, the buddy check, is often accomplished in the midst of uncomfortable conversation in which one partner doesn t want to intrude on the personal space of the other. This often begins with the question, You checked your stuff, right? The dangerous mindset is, This person is a good person, and I don t want them to think I don t trust them. Besides, what authority do I really have to put my hands on them? Add to this the fact that there is no systematic methodology applied to the buddy check. The people checking each other don t have the skill set to thoroughly search the other person, and believe me, it is a skill set.
Finally, once these first two inspections have been completed, a third person (or often a bunch of third persons in the interest of attempting to save time) will complete the final inspection. The dangerous mindset here is, These folks have already been inspected twice, so I ll just give a quick pat down to make sure they didn t miss anything. As a result, three lackluster inspections fail to turn up the dangerous items.
That s not to say I disagree with the concept of a triple check, but rather that if the process will be used, it must be ritualistic in nature with three independent, thorough inspections. All participants must receive instructions on how to search, and that process must occur under the keen eye of someone with the observation skills of a Las Vegas pit boss.
My Search Methodology
I m not a big fan of the triple check. I prefer a single, systematic inspection accomplished by a person or persons who have a high degree of experience in this area. What is that process exactly? Thought you d never ask.
First, take control of the area. Achieve order and quiet. Let everybody know the safety inspection process is about to begin and that you need everybody s attention and cooperation.
Then line up everybody with everything they will access during the scenario day everything. They place their gun belt, any load-bearing or ballistic vest, and other possessions in front of them, standing before you with only the clothes on their back. They empty their pockets into a bin everything and you inspect those items. Once inspected, place that bin behind you. Placing searched items to the rear ensures that if there is a small interruption, you can reconnect your thoughts by recognizing what has been searched and what has not.
Search the gun belt and look into every single pouch, especially magazine pouches because single rounds have fallen out of magazines on many occasions and then been picked up by otherwise empty magazines. Once you ve searched the gun belt, place it behind you.
Search any items such as gear bags and vests. In certain instances, a participant will bring a gear bag loaded with so much stuff it would be prohibitively time consuming to search everything. In such an instance, ask the participant to remove any items of absolute necessity to the upcoming scenario and then take the whole bag into your custody so you can place it into your secure area (which remains off limits to everyone except the safety officer). Tell the participant that if they need to retrieve anything from the bag, they can do it later by asking the safety officer to make it available in their presence. That way they can get whatever they need in the presence of the safety officer.
In situations like this, it wouldn t matter to me if the participant had a live weapon or ammunition in the bag because they will not have access to it while it is in the custody of the safety officer. If, on the other hand, the bag is completely searched during the safety inspection and returned to the participant, you must mark the bag with what I call a safety clearance indicator (SCI) so that if the bag is seen later in the day, there is a visible indicator that it has been searched. I use simple fluorescent price tags. They re cheap and easy to apply.
For items such as load-bearing or ballistic vests, ask the participant if the item belongs to them. Often a participant will borrow some gear and there might be pockets or hidden weapons that they don t know about. Make sure the participant helps you find and search any and all pockets because some of them might not be obvious to you. Once searched, again place the items behind you.
Once you ve searched all of the participants belongings, it s time to search the person. I use a metal detector because, well, they find metal. But I use them for other reasons as well. If used in the manner I prescribe, they will bump into things in places where dangerous items typically hide.
I use a cookie-cutter approach in which I run the wand over the perimeter surfaces of the body beginning at the shoulder, around the outstretched arms, down one side of the body, over the insides of both legs, then back up the other leg and torso, and around the other arm to the shoulder. Remember, this is a contact search. Press the wand against the body as hard as if you were trying to scratch an itch.
Once the cookie has been cut, run the wand over the front and back surfaces. Shake the pockets up and down with the wand. They should be empty. You will feel it if they are not. Finally, run the wand around the belt line. Any area the wand rings on, crush the area. Remember, you re looking for big stuff guns, knives, magazines, chemical agent, etc. so it s not necessary to have somebody take their pants off to discover that they have some weird piercing. A quick crush will tell you if there s anything you need to worry about. If not, move on.
Finally, once you re satisfied that they don t have any contraband, ask them if there s anything that you ve missed. Turn the search process into a collaboration, not a competition.
After the search is complete, place an SCI onto the boot of the searched individual. Have them take all of their possessions into the secure area and ask them to not leave or interact with anyone else who has not been searched.
If you find any items of contraband during the inspection, treat them casually. Let the person know you will hold onto the item until the end of the day when it will be reissued to them. Have a specialized container to put it in immediately, and at the end of all of the inspections take your box of contraband into the secure safety-officer zone.
They Aren t Prisoners
The safety inspection does not have to be a traumatic, over-zealous process. It must, however, be thorough and systematic. In the best of all possible worlds, it would resemble the process at the airport in which all of the gear passes through an x-ray machine and the person passes through a metal detector. It can certainly be as fast and efficient as the airport (yes, they have gotten much better over time), and if properly done, it will turn up things you never expected.
Just remember, the training participants are not prisoners and do not need to be treated as such. They are people in the habit of carrying items that would prove hazardous in a scenario-training environment. Although it s possible it could occur, there has never been an instance where somebody intentionally brought a hazardous item into a secure training area with the intention of causing harm. Don t search them as though they re hiding something. Search them as though they either forgot something or didn t know it was there in the first place.
The Opposite Sex
When it comes to people of the opposite sex searching one another, the process remains identical. The only thing I would add is that for any type of search, if the metal detector rings on an area that might be considered taboo to touch, have the participant physically check that area on themselves. Ask them, Would you squeeze that area to make sure you don t have any guns, knives, ammunition or any other item of contraband please? If there is an item there, you have not only reconnected them to the reality they are carrying something, but you have given them the opportunity to participate in the safety collaboration.
An Environment of Trust
I guarantee that if you build an environment of trust, they will not hide things from you. If, on the other hand, you start handing out pushups or other forms of corporal punishment or social humiliation for discovered items of contraband, they will not announce any items they might find later. Praise such discoveries publicly and thank them for their safety input.
Any time somebody brings a gun to one of these training environments, it s rarely on purpose. Those who do it on purpose are usually of the mindset that they are training in a remote location and believe they must have a firearm nearby in case the ninjas come over the wall. If that s a valid concern, post an external armed guard who will not under any circumstances enter the secure area while armed or otherwise interact with the training participants.
Also make sure you have a place to secure any weapons brought by the participants. I recommend a pigeonholed Pelican-style case in which you can store loaded weapons inside the secure area the safety officer s sanctum sanctorum. This area must, by policy, remain inviolable to anyone except the safety officer. If, in a worst-case scenario, somebody did show up and mean the training participants harm, it would certainly be permissible to jump over the plastic tape and grab the guns. At this point, training is kinda over anyway!
RBT safety is complex. The foregoing is just a taste of some of the safety provisions and processes you must undertake to ensure a safe training environment. It s by no means an exhaustive treatise on the subject. To truly experience the process, I recommend hands-on training in this subject. Absent that, put together a small group of trainers and talk about the process. Remember: ritual, not routine.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.